A Guide to Understanding Fire Extinguishers

Fire safety is crucial for any company to adhere to. Via protocols, education, plans and more, companies can be prepared for any fire-related issues that may unfortunately arise.

Whether you are on a construction site or in a building, understanding the different types of fire extinguishers and their purposes is vital.

First and foremost, it is important to note that not all fire extinguishers can be used to tackle every fire. In the case of a fire, if you use the incorrect equipment, it could actually lead to making the fire worse and risking greater injuries.

We have put together this complete guide on fire extinguishers that can help you understand their differences and know which ones to use if an unfortunate event is ever to arise.

Fire Classification System

Fires are categorised into groups based on the knowledge of the type of fuel involved. The UK standard uses letters to represent the different classifications of fires. Aside from electrical fires, each fire class is represented by an icon design using said letter.

The types of fires are as follows:

  • Class A – Solids: paper, wood, or plastic.
  • Class B – Flammable liquids: petrol, oil, or paraffin
  • Class C – Flammable gases: methane, butane, or propane
  • Class D – Metals: titanium, aluminium, or magnesium
  • Class F – Cooking oils and fats
  • Electrical

Due to the many different types of fires, based on their fuel types, as the above shows, it makes sense to have fire extinguishers that address those specific types of fuel.

Main Types of Fire Extinguishers

There are 5 main types of fire extinguishers, and they are:

  1. Water
  2. Foam
  3. Dry Powder
  4. Wet Chemical
  5. Carbon Dioxide

1.      Water Fire Extinguishers

This type of extinguisher is ideal for fires that fall into Class A, anything involving solid combustibles, such as wood, plastic, paper, straw, coal etc.

This product is one of the most common types and the least expensive of the fire extinguishers. Additionally, they are easy to maintain, easy to handle and one of the least hazardous.

Water fire extinguishers should not be used on Class F, Class D, Class B, or electrical fires.

2.      Foam Fire Extinguishers

This product handles fire by covering it in its solid/liquid material, referring to class A and B fires, but it is not to be used on fires which contain cooking oil or burnt fats (Class F).

A benefit of the foam solution is that it can help to prevent the reignition of a fire.

3.      Dry Powder

This type of fire extinguisher can be successfully used on the following types of fires: Class A, B, C and electrical fires.

Note, we do not recommend using this product inside, especially in closed spaces, due to the risk of inhalation of the powder. The powder can cause vision issues and damage any machinery in your workspace.

Dry powder fire extinguishers are successful due to the powder becoming a crush which covers, puts out, and prevents the fire from spreading.

However, it can result in fire reignitions due to its inability to have a cooling effect when used.

4.      Wet Chemical Extinguishers

This type of fire extinguisher is one of the only products successful in handling Class F fires, those containing fats and cooking oils. Therefore, they are a common product in kitchen areas.

In addition to being used in Class F fires, they can also be used in Class A and sometimes Class B fires.

5.      Carbon Dioxide Fire Extinguishers

This type of fire extinguisher is perfect for handling electrical fires, why? Because CO2 is not a conductor and does not leave behind any harmful substances.

For offices with server spaces, computers and other electrical equipment, this type of fire extinguisher is the most preferable to preserve any equipment.

The CO2 solution suffocates the fire and eventually puts it out.

Fire Extinguisher Cheat Sheet

Class A: Water, Foam, Dry Powder, Wet Chemical

Class B: Foam, Dry Powder, C02, Wet Chemical (some types)

Class C: Dry Powder

Class D: Dry Powder

Class F: Wet Chemical

Electrical: Foam, CO2

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